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Biennials and Art Fairs: Cultural Tourism in the Asian Megacity

Authors: John Zarobell*, University of San Francisco
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Asia
Keywords: Asian Megacity, Cultural Tourism, Arts Districts, Urban Development
Session Type: Paper
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Biennials and Art Fairs are proliferating globally. There are now about 250 of each and they have spread to cities throughout the world. These events are intended to show off cultural developments to a global audience and, like their predecessors in Europe, they cater to an elite clientele that practices cultural tourism. In terms of urban development, these festivals highlight recent additions to the urban landscape such as museums (public and private) and gallery clusters (arts districts). But these events are short-lived and the cultural seekers who come usually return without having experienced the city much outside of the range of art destinations promoted by the organizers.

How can these temporary events contribute to broader development in Asian megacities today? Looking at examples of biennials and art fairs in Delhi, Shanghai and Jakarta, this paper seeks to explore the dynamics of temporary events and their broader strategies for urban development. In this case the temporary/permanent axis intersects with the global/local axis in compelling ways. Cultural placemaking generates a lot of international interest in Asian megacities and lays claim to a global model of urban development and sophistication (the creative city). But these festivals have short-term economic effects while many of the local residents are living in temporary housing and working in the informal economy, longing for more permanent opportunities. Can the promise of the cultural festival deliver a more lasting urban renown for Asian megacities, or are they inclined to promote more short-term solutions to their citizens’ long-term demands?

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